No self-respecting Filipino grows up without learning how to cook rice one way or another. Most Filipino mothers will train their children to measure rice and water the old-fashioned way, using the digit method, and you don’t speak of cups, but of takal, (a measurement), which can be a cup, a can, a shovel, or even half a pot. There is no scientific method of cooking rice the traditional Filipino way, and to many outsiders it will seem pretty much like a hit-and-miss method, but it makes sense somehow. Of course, no (East, Southeast) Asian household is without a rice cooker either, regardless of how anyone was raised. Even my mother, who grew up in rural Philippines and learned to cook rice in a clay pot succumed to the temptation of a rice cooker. Although if she had her way, she probably would have sent me out to find a clay rice cooker. Hmmm, now there’s an idea…
What Filipino hasn’t been told “magsaing ka na!” (cook the rice now) or had “hindi ka pa nagsaing?” screamed at them (haven’t you cooked rice yet?). The rice cooker may not prevent the admonitions, but it can certainly speed things up! The convenience of a rice cooker is unparalleled, a small appliance that ensure a full and nutritious meal no matter how simple it may be.
My first rice cooker, ironically enough, I bought in Berlin back in 2000, never having summoned up the nerve to use one for fear of being haunted by all my venerable ancestors at once like in the movie Mulan! It took a Filipino-German friend to knock some sense into and through my bullheadedness. “How have you survived all these years without one?” she exclaimed, a perfectly valid question now that I think about it. The idea of such an appliance taking up residency in my kitchen never ocurred to me even during all the years of living in India either, since I ran a Filipino-German household where rice was not primary staple on the table.
Fastforward two decades later, my home has never been without a rice cooker since that fateful encounter in Berlin. I’ve lost track of all the rice cookers I have bought and gone through. Some survived ended up being adopted by other families I before moved away. Oh, FYI, I have only sentenced two of them to death by electrocution.
The kitchen, as I wrote yesterday, is the soul of my home. For some, the presence of a coffee machine may anchor the family there, and for others it may be the kawali (wok) or cast iron pans. For me it is the rice cooker that spells a sense of permanence, rooted in a place for an extented period. It means not having to borrow a pot to cook my rice, or watch over the boiling rice so it doesn’t overcook and create a crust at the bottom – mind you, the jury is till out about that crust. There are cultures where being offered the crust is an honour, and in my mom’s family, they used to fight over it (my grandfather would fry it and sprinkle a bit of sugar and coconut over the resulting crispy deliciousness).
This weekend I inaugurated my little red rice cooker and I was thrilled to the bone. There was nothing fancy about the dish, but it was that familiar comfort that affirmed I am here for the long haul. When you commit to a rice cooker, you commit to the time frame, the place, and establishing residency. To me this is something more powerful than a visa or any other legal document that ties me to the government of a nation. You can’t nurture our body and soul from a visa or passport, but a rice cooker? Ah, that builds bridges and heals wounds.